The Sports Hub starts Boston radio war
Although the official launch is not until August 13, a radio war has already broken out in Boston this week when CBS Radio announced it will convert the 98.5FM frequency to an all-sport format to challenge the market's established sports station WEEI AM 850.
While "Toucher and Rich", WBCN's super-popular morning duo are already talking smack and taking shots (pre-requisites for a morning radio job) at WEEI's "Dennis and Callahan" as they finish up their run on WBCN 104.1FM, will they and the new Sports Hub 98.5FM be able to bring it when the clock officially starts next month?
Some say this might end up as a replay of the all-sport fight that resulted in WEEI closing out WWZN AM/Zone 1510 in 2004 and technically fading out WAMG/ESPN 890 out of any contention. But there are number of major factors outside of WEEI's 18-year domination that allowed those challengers to self-destruct on their own. For the Zone 1510, the bad timing was everything. The station launched a month after 9/11 when the last thing people wanted to listen to and talk about was sports. With the economy going bust, the radio advertising dried up quickly. The 9/11 recession quickly followed by the complete burst in the dot-com bubble which in turn cut much of the operational funding from WWZN's corporate owner, former Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen whose business portfolio was heavily invested into on-line media. The only thing that kept WWZN on the radar was the Celtics radio rights. When the Celtics moved their radio rights to Entercom's WRKO in 2005, the Zone immediately became a non-factor, not just in sports programming but on the radio dial in general. As for the ESPN 890 which is somehow still on the air after four years, it has minimal local content(2-hour afternoon call-in show, 4-6pm and a brokered time night recap show 10pm-Midnight) to go with a tricky AM signal reception. Although ESPN Radio's national programming could be a good alternative in small doses, in Boston all sports is local. Always was, always will.
Why does CBS Radio think/know it can succeed with the Sports Hub 98.5? Many reasons and most of them make sense, at least on paper. For one, CBS has already been producing lots of local sports content with Patriots on WBCN and Bruins on WBZ-AM since mid 1990's so bringing two teams onto one signal is a no-brainer. A no-brainer number two, with a clear and crisp FM signal covering the entire Boston market and beyond, the new SportsHub has a potential to reach a lot more ears than any current and/or former WEEI challengers on the AM dial. This one goes under the "marketing/promotional goal" column, but CBS will surely use the local synergy with sister TV station and CBS-affil WBZ/Channel 4. The new SportsHub will be able to tap into WBZ-TV's sports department for any live updates on major breaking or developing local sports stories. CBS can also cross-promote its new sports talker among its other three FM stations and one AM station. On the national level, CBS Radio is heavily invested in sports content. Ths SportsHub will have full access to company's national resources including access to sports media outposts in NYC, LA and everywhere else. CBS also produces radio sports programming which includes college football, college basketball including March Madness, and of ourse entire NFL package from regular season to the Super Bowl(expect the NFL package to shift from WEEI to the new WBZ 98.5FM/SportsHub). On line, CBSSportsline.com is one most popular sports destinations for sports fans on-line.
But the underlying rationale for CBS introducing FM sports format to Boston is, of course, money. Well-run sports radio format has a track record of producing significant advertising revenue even when the audience figures are smaller than other radio formats. Advertisers like to buy time on sports stations because listeners tune in and connect with the format based on emotion, not because they love the personalities. There is also the appeal to advertisers of the sports radio demographic - males 18 to 54 with money to spend. In 2008, WEEI AM 850 was the second most profitable station in the Boston market with $31.2 million in revenues. WBCN 104.1FM which is ending its 41-year run as the result of CBS' local radio shake-up made only $15.1 million.
Sports radio like all radio is entertainment. That is why the morning duo of Toucher and Rich will not be all-sports-all-the-time. Neither is "Dennis and Callahan" show on WEEI if you really sit down and listen. There is enough politcs, current events and pop culture talk on WEEI in the AM morning drive to fill a stadium full of unhappy sports nuts. But it has worked for WEEI and based on Toucher and Rich's ratings on WBCN, CBS hopes it works for the new Sports Hub 98.5.
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